6 Years

6 years ago today I was staring at a pair of oak doors through a white veil with my dad standing proudly next to me, smiling so widely and brightly it was rivaled only by my own goofy grin. I nervously chuckled as I heard our friends and family settle into their seats and the organist began to pipe out one of our favorite hymns, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” A memory briefly flitted across my mind as the doors opened. You had slipped a note to me during one of the Mason CRU meetings as we had all sang this song together. It read: “Come thou fount! He has given me every blessing and now he has given me you! :-)”
Dad down the aisleI squeezed my bouquet as my heart threatened to escape out of my chest and I walked toward you. Toward this life we have pieced together. Toward promises of “for better or for worse” and toward a groom I was certain was about to pass out as he nervously smiled and locked/unlocked his knees at the altar.
There we stood. “The surprise couple of the year” as our pastor and friend had stated during his message. What would come of a union between Mr. Quaker Oats and Miss Froot Loops? Only time would tell, I guess. We prayed together, exchanged rings, sealed our union with a kiss (or two 😉 ), and walked out of the church as Mr. & Mrs.
Today I’m staring out the kitchen windows of the first home we have ever owned, watching butterflies enjoy the flowers framing our patio and bikers and runners getting in their Saturday morning exercise on the street next door.  Our son is dancing in my womb, enjoying the chocolate chip banana pancakes we eat on most sabbath days and I’m overwhelmed with gratitude and a little bit of anxiety. A week ago you had walked into our home to find me crying at the kitchen table, looking out those same windows. I confessed that I was scared of what having a child would do to the life we had built together over these years. I like what we have now. I like our date nights and quiet sabbath mornings and spontaneous Sonic ice cream dates in the middle of the week. I like you. I like being with you and watching you get all excited when you talk about cars or when you share about having a great conversation with one of your students. I like taking obscenely long road trips with you to visit friends and family and looking up interesting places we can eat along the way while we talk about nothing and everything. I confessed that I was scared I’m going to sacrifice my marriage on the altar of my children.
You walked over to me, without missing a beat, put your hands on my shoulders and said, “It won’t leave unless we let it leave. Our relationship is gonna look different with children in the picture, but it doesn’t ever have to disappear entirely. Not unless we let it.”
IMG_4998So I’m taking a deep breath and surrendering to God all of my anxieties about what our next year of marriage will look like with our sweet son in the picture. I’m slowing down to remember and cherish and give thanks for the memories we’ve made and the hardships we’ve endured. I’m replacing lies with truth and I’m throwing joy in the face of fear. You still know how to rustle up the butterflies in my stomach and you’re a pro at making me unbelievably frustrated in the blink of an eye. You’re my best friend, for better or for worse. Here’s to year 7! I have no idea what it’ll be like, but I don’t want to find out with anybody but you.
I love you.
Happy Anniversary!
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Fünf Jahre!

John,

Five years. Fünf jahre! Fünf! Can you believe it? (I just like saying “Fünf” because it’s such a funny German word.)

Five years I have run alongside of you. Five years of inside jokes, and late night drives and sabbath day pancakes. As with every passing year, I’ve learned more about you — appreciating new things and enduring others (gotta keep it real, right?– nobody’s perfect) Speaking of not being perfect, remember how I lost my job in October? Yeah. That was great. Our first taste of the “for worse” part of our wedding vows. We didn’t exactly do it perfectly but by God’s grace, we came out of it clinging to God and cheering each other on.

I’ll tell you what I remember most about this past year: you were there. Always. You didn’t give up on me, even when you didn’t understand my emotional rants or reclusive silences at the dinner table. You need to know that you are stronger than you realize. You aren’t perfect and neither am I and this past year has been our banner year for reminding us of that. But this year has only strengthened my resolve to encourage, support, push, and enjoy you more.

When I came home for three months straight, reeking of coffee shops and unemployment, you always came home later after working 13 hour days. I watched you work day after day after day and sometimes I would just cry in the car thinking about it. You worked SO hard. I felt SO ashamed. Life had become some cruel disappointment. This past year I watched you put your head down and work yourself almost to death. Then I saw you collapse at Jesus’s feet in surrender and say, “I can’t do it.” You sought help, and recovered hope. Your humility in the middle of this storm gave me strength and perspective. Without knowing it, you brought me back to the God I had been secretly hating for weeks. Thank you. Thank you for bringing me back.

Yet through all the hectic months of our life, you still managed to find time for date night. You still picked up flowers at the store. The bouquets were always so unique and I thought I might never let go of you when you told me you had them specially arranged by the lady behind the counter. I just pictured you stooped over all the flowers with your brows furrowed as you picked out just the right ones. And I hugged you tighter because I don’t understand your care for me sometimes.

The new calendar year brought me a new job, by God’s gracious hand. It wasn’t what either of us expected but after a chorus of “We’ve chosen another candidate” and a resounding reprise of absolute silence, we were thankful. So I pranced around the house in a swimsuit, preparing to teach kids an activity I could barely do myself and we laughed at the new shade of ridiculous our lives just adopted. The paycheck was such a blessing, the schedule was a bear. We were like ships in the night for awhile. Still painfully, blessedly aware that we couldn’t do it apart from God. We still needed Him to keep us together, working as a team, learning as a family. We shared some hard words and sat in heavy silences. We missed seeing each other and stupidly blamed each other for it. Our logic was flawless, “I miss you. But I’m too exhausted to connect with you. But you haven’t connected with ME in a while either. Therefore, you must not miss me. Therefore, you’re a jerk.” Brilliant, eh? You live and learn in married life I guess.  Sorry for being such a shmuck sometimes.

I’ve been thinking about our marriage over the past few weeks leading up to our 5 year anniversary. And I’ve decided that I like the sound of being married for 5 years. It seems like such a magnanimous accomplishment. Like we should get some kind of award for being such a mature and wise couple. Being married for 5 years gives us the right to look down our noses at those rascally “newlyweds” and tut-tut over all the things we learned “back in the day”… right? Because I’m all over that. But what I like more than just the sound of being married for 5 years is the reality that I’ve shared it with you. Somehow, in the midst of the chaos and shattered plans and long days… we’ve made a life together. And I treasure it.

I love you. I love the way you have taken care of me by taking care of your walk with God. I love sharing this life with you while offering my own snarky and completely useless commentary on it. I love laughing at with you. I love catching your eye and making you smile over a moment that nobody else could understand or appreciate. I love hearing you pray. Unless I’m really hungry… then I kind of struggle. I love hearing you dream out loud and chiming in with my own happy versions of our future and heaven and how great God is. I love being your bride. What a year we’ve had! What a privilege to have lived it alongside of you.

Here’s to the adventures we shared and the mistakes we made and the grace that makes it all possible.

And here’s to you, babe.

Happy Anniversary!

My happy place. :)

We clean up pretty nice 😉

Chapters 1 – 4

If our marriage was a book, it’d be four chapters long today. 🙂

Here are excerpts from the ever-expanding epic (that I’m not actually writing):

“Married Life: Lessons Learned by the Lavoies”

Chapter One: Community – Get some.

Our first year of marriage was pretty darn awesome. I laughed at John’s fastidious quirks and habits and provided ample entertainment by running into door frames and waking myself up with my own snores. It was evident we were embarking on the adventure of a lifetime and we soaked in every minute.

The difference-maker in this year was the people around us. We had an incredible community of friends and family who were cheering for us and loved us both. Many couples make the mistake of adopting an isolationist mindset when they first get married — “It’s all about US now.” Which is an easy trap to fall into because you’re trying to figure out how to set your own boundaries, make your own decisions as a couple etc. But it’s marital suicide. The people who made our first year of marriage great were the ones who asked us how we were doing as a couple or how they could pray for us. The ones who took us out on girls nights or guys nights, who weren’t weirded out when we admitted we had problems to work through and pushed (sometimes shoved) us closer to Jesus.

Find friends who know and love both of you and can speak into your lives when you need direction, encouragement, and prayer.

My beloved Bible Study while I was learning how to be a wife. They are such amazing people. <3

My beloved Bible Study while I was a newlywed. A constant source of encouragement and prayer. ❤

Chapter Two: Change – Expect it. Better yet, embrace it.

Our second year of marriage brought change. A LOT of it. I graduated from college, two weeks later we moved from VA to TX, one week later we traveled to Haiti for a 3 week mission trip, returned to an apartment full of unpacked boxes and I began my job hunt while he began learning the Greek alphabet in preparation for his first on-campus seminary semester. Also, we had two friends in TX. Wonderful people! But not exactly the equivalent of a church home or network of community that we desperately needed (see Chapter 1).

As you can imagine, we communicated perfectly, met each others expectations flawlessly and practically skipped into the bedroom every night!

NOT.

Year two for us was the proverbial “Year One” crash-course that we had missed out on earlier. It was hard.

In my zeal (read:panic) to dive head-first into this new normal of working while John went to seminary, I burned John to the ground. I just wore. him. out. I didn’t want him to get a job because it was MY job to bring home the bacon while he focused solely on and ALWAYS on school. Without realizing it, I not only let him drown in syllabi, flashcards, and commentaries, I was holding his head under the water.

He sunk into depression. I became angry and scared that he wasn’t charging into seminary and tackling every assignment with gusto. “That’s why we’re here in the first place, right?!” But he’s not a scholar, he’s a shepherd. And shepherds need to be shepherding even when especially when they’re surrounded by a lot of scholars.

After a few weeks of counseling, John was aptly diagnosed with “spiritual constipation.” In short, he had gone from a hands-on life of campus ministry that was full of discipleship, evangelism, and staff meetings … to a life of exegesis papers and deadlines. He desperately needed an outlet to be a shepherd again. Once he got a part-time job tutoring college students and began discipling some guys he slowly rose above the tidal wave of our unrealistic expectations. We both began to settle down and take our new life one day at a time – finding a church home, meeting new friends, and making new memories together.

Change doesn’t have to be a bad thing, just give yourself (and your spouse) the grace and the space to adapt to it.

Ol' faithful Penskepants that moved our life half-way across the country.

The faithful Penskepants that moved our life half-way across the country.

Chapter Three: Common interest – find it, keep it, cultivate it.

When John and I were dating/engaged we went on tons of fun dates and enjoyed looking googly-eyed at each other and admiring how awesome we were. It was fabulous. Unfortunately, we didn’t prioritize finding some mutual hobby that we could do together as a couple. Once we got married, we quickly realized I was far from becoming a car enthusiast and John’s idea of scrapbooking was dropping jpegs into a folder on his computer and occasionally clicking through them (UNacceptable).

We dutifully started trying each other’s hobbies to see if we could find some common interest but it usually just led to frustration and disappointment. We enjoyed watching TV shows on Netflix for a time but felt like we were getting to know the characters on Frasier better than each other. Finally, after much prayer we landed on something: running*.

Running had never been a favorite pastime of mine because, as the license plate frame on my old car quipped “I’d rather be dancing!” But I was not about to slap a leotard on my black-belt husband and tell him to catch me as my tutu’ed self leapt into his arms. Not happening. (But great visual, right?)

Instead, we both embraced this new hobby and all that came with it: icing our knees with bags of frozen veggies, sharing a huge smoothie after long runs, instagramming our running dates (exclusively Rachel), researching how we could do it better (exclusively John), and ultimately running in races together.

Running with John has been one of the key contributing factors to the deepening of our friendship. It reminds me that he and I are on the same team. Not only while we run but while tackling the day-in, day-out crazy of life.

*John has already hinted that our knees may not be able to keep up this hobby indefinitely and that we should try bike-riding instead. But I’m banking on our next mutual interest to be something I’m actually good at — like ice cream eating competitions or bargain shopping. *fingers crossed*

A common interest or hobby is worth having  so be intentional about finding it and once you’ve got it — run with it! (Pun is 100% intended)

Finishers of the 2012 Dallas Half-Marathon!

Finishers of the 2012 Dallas Half-Marathon!

Year Four: Conflict happens! LET IT.

I despise conflict and am an expert at avoiding it. The moment I see it coming, I run in the other direction which almost always leads to more conflict. John doesn’t like conflict either but he sees the very real danger in leaving it unresolved. When left unresolved, conflict festers in the heart and leads to increasing feelings of bitterness and anger. It’s not pretty.

But, it happens. Conflict happens because there is no way two people will always agree on every little thing, and certainly not on every BIG thing. John and I have said hurtful words and kept hurtful silence more times than I can number. We have both left the room in frustration, slammed doors, cried into pillows… the works.

Earlier on it was primarily John who would say, “Rachel, what’s wrong?” But in this last year of marriage I have realized how selfish I’ve been in leaving it up to him to always approach me when there’s an issue. When I bury my emotions I’m not helping either of us. It’s been tough for me to say “I’m angry. I’m hurt. You’re making me feel X-Y-Z” because the people – pleaser in me is always saying, “Really, Rachel? Do you really want to turn this into a problem? Can’t you just let it go?” But when I “let it go” it doesn’t disappear. It just buries itself deeper into my already seething mind and heart and then eventually erupts into this hot, roiling, mess of emotions that takes twice as long to work through and often cuts twice as deep.

The greatest aspect I’ve discovered about conflict is that you can actually get on the other side of it and still be friends! In fact, you can be better friends! It’s amazing. Despite my ridiculous fears that conflict will destroy our relationship, the exact opposite has happened. It builds, unites (eventually…), and strengthens us as a couple.

When you encounter conflict, work through it rather than around it.

OK. Clearly we aren't legitimately angry in this picture. Just some good ol'-fashioned Christmas party photobooth drama ;)

OK. Clearly we aren’t legitimately angry in this picture… but you get the idea 😉

Four years later and what I can say about our marriage is that it’s different than it was. It requires harder work and produces sweeter dividends than I had ever anticipated. Each chapter has it’s own unique flavor of lessons learned and we are most definitely in a better place than where we started.

Happy Anniversary, John! I love you times a million. :)

Happy Anniversary, John! I love you. 🙂

Three years, three perspectives, one conclusion.

Not gonna lie. We look good. 😉

John and I have been married for 3 years today! Awesome. 🙂 As we reach this chapter in our marriage I have received/observed a variety of opinions (which I think are more accurately labeled “reflections from personal experience”) on three years of marriage.

These opinions typically (though not always) fall under three categories:

1) Still Newlyweds 2) Flickering Romance 3) Where are the Kids?

Still NewlywedsYou don’t know what it’s “really like” being married

I’ve noticed that this opinion is present every year and that couples who have been married for 10+ years get the same kind of rhetoric from couples who have been married for 20+ years and so on and so forth. In that case, does ANY one know what it’s “really like”? And, who gets to decide when you’ve “arrived”?

Regardless, I am exceedingly thankful for where we are now. John is my best friend. I really can’t think of anyone else who I would rather share everything with. And I mean  laundry, dishes, conflict, Star Trek Marathons, bowls of ice cream EVERYTHING. I live with his shortcomings and he with mine. It takes a real man to love this clumsy, absent-minded, snoring, guffawing mess.

We’re one! What a remarkable truth and what a safe haven for my mountain of insecurities. I have no idea how this falls under “knowing what it’s like” but I can tell you this much — I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

Flickering RomanceThree years is enough time for you to realize that marriage is way more work than you bargained for. You’re probably feeling a bit disappointed by the whole experience, huh?

1) I am not naive enough to believe that John and I will always have stomachs full of butterflies and hearts bursting with uncontrollable passion. I think it’s safe to say: we’ve passed the honeymoon stage. We aren’t blindly enamored by the newness of married life, it’s just become a part of who we are. Him in me, I in Him.

2) Our marriage doesn’t take “more work” it takes the same amount of “work” that God required of us from the beginning:

“Wives submit to your husbands as to the Lord… Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” – Ephesians 5:22 &25

I’ve heard it said that “familiarity can breed contempt.” And I think that’s why people assume, after a certain point, marriage is a disappointing, fairy-tale-gone-wrong relationship. It doesn’t have to be that way. Yes, John and I don’t have the same mushy-gushy lovey-dovey fuzzy-wuzzy (somebody stop me…) feelings we once had all the time. Now we have a marriage.

Familiarity can also breed security, freedom, peace, a REFUGE. That’s what our marriage is growing into. We can’t build a foundation on mushy-wuzzy feelings. We are called to build it on the covenant we made before the one true God on our wedding day three years ago. We also don’t build that foundation alone, the Holy Spirit is (and continues to be) our helper.

Sometimes that means we have conflict and go through the process of resolving it. Which can be as easy as, “Woops. I’m sorry, I definitely misunderstood what you meant. Friends? Friends!” and as difficult as, “I just can’t be in the same room right now.. I’ll be back in a bit to talk it out after I’ve cooled off.”

Sometimes it means saying “No” to good fun with good people because you haven’t had a chance to sit down and talk to your spouse, face-to-face, in 1-2-3 weeks.

Sometimes it means you come home to a beautiful bouquet of roses on the table from a husband who knows you, and knows you are going through a difficult time. Sometimes it means waking up 20 minutes earlier during finals week so you have time to prepare his favorite crockpot dish or make him a hot cup of tea before leaving for work.

So while some equate familiarity with disinterest, I see it as a great blessing.

Where are the kids?Does this really need an explanation? 

This opinion is pretty exclusive, as it’s constituents are family and close friends. You guys are relentless! 😉 Our response: they aren’t here yet! Lord-willing we will one day have a family. Maybe the Lord will give us a great big surprise before John graduates and our “perfect little plan” will be interrupted by God’s “I’m-sovereign-I-do-what-I-want plan.” Usually that ends up happening, so who knows?! In the meantime, we are thoroughly enjoying loving all over the kiddos we know and picking your brains on parenting.

My conclusion, after reflecting on three years of marriage to John: good call.

And, uh, just for the record, I still get butterflies in my stomach. 🙂